10 Easy Tips that Work: Expanding Choices for Middle School

10 Easy Tips that Work: Expanding Choices for Middle School

As kids get into middle school, they have more choices.  They are spending more time away from their parents to be with their peers. Their choices also become bigger with more impact on their lives.  All of this happens at the same time that their peers’ attitudes have a larger role in their lives. How can we help?  Read along for some tips that work for middle school students, especially those who have emotional disorders, and their decision-making.

Be a Role Model

The good news is that parents, teachers, and trusted adults still have an important role to play in the lives of pre-teens and teenagers. We can be their sounding boards for decision-making, pointing out possible consequences of decisions that they may not have thought about. And we are still a role model for them- even if they don’t seem to be paying attention!

We can offer advice, but older students do not welcome being told what to do. It is important to offer advice as to options that students can make, delineating both positive and negative possible consequences related to the choices.

By discussing these factors and letting our youngsters make the decision, we are empowering them on their paths to become independent adults.

10 Tips: Working with Difficult Students

  1. Avoid unnecessary confrontations over behaviors. Stay calm and point out the negative consequences of the behaviors that the student is choosing to exhibit. (These hints apply to behaviors that are not dangerous or injurious.)
  2. Repeat the request or the direction and give the student time and space to make a different choice.
  3. If the student chooses to continue the inappropriate behavior, follow up with the appropriate negative consequence.
  4. If the student chooses to make a more appropriate choice, continue from wherever you were, unobtrusively helping them to catch up. It also helps to find a quiet way to thank the student for making a better choice.
  5. Consider what kind of factors contributed to the student’s inappropriate behaviors.  Was it due to internal factors or a reflection of the difficulty level of the work presented? Often students will act out rather than admit that something is difficult or that they need help.
  6. Have choices available for the students’ work that day. When students are having a difficult day, they may respond better to addressing their goals via a game or a video clip rather than a worksheet.
  7. Communicate that you are aware that something is wrong when your difficult student walks in the door looking upset.  Ask the student if they would like to talk about it or get the work done.
  8. Be willing to barter on difficult days.  Getting a smaller amount of responses than you hoped for is a better use of a session than having the student lose it and not accomplish anything at all.
  9. Try to put a fun spin on some review work. Often students are willing to use a skill in a role-play situation. Have them “be” the SLP and give you the directions.  Or you can engage in an online activity on days when they refuse to complete typical or challenging work.
  10. Spend some time to get ready for difficult days with ideas related to each of the goal areas on your IEPs.

Expanding Middle School Choices

Students with emotional disorders who are having problematic days don’t need to deal with more pressure in their lives. But sometimes you can reach them on a difficult day with fun or humor!

Keep a few fun backup games for general language skills on your shelves. Pictured are some fun games to have around for those difficult days. These will let you review some goals on your student’s IEP, which is an improvement on doing nothing at all. Best of all, it lets you observe your students’ skill use in real-life situations.

YouTube clips usually appeal to middle school students and can be used for a variety of language skills as well. Putting the links to these websites on one document can be helpful for finding them quickly on days when attention spans and tempers are short.  If needed, you can bargain by getting students to watch your video before letting them show their favorite school-appropriate one to you. See if they can summarize what the video is about and explain why they like it. Functional use of language! This is also a great way to expand your list.

Have a list of websites for making your own stories or comic strips ready to go at any time. These sites help you work on a variety of language skills. They also provide your students with the options of visually ‘journaling’ what they are upset about or getting their mind off their problem entirely.

Language for Conflict Resolution

Expand Language Skills for Problem Solving

It helps to work on problem-solving skills when your students are able to settle down to get something accomplished.  Practice the language skills for problem-solving on days that students can learn. This makes using the language easier on difficult days.

Most kids would much rather figure out someone else’s problems than discuss their own in a group.  The trick is to find materials that they can relate to in their lives. And it can be tough to find appropriate topics with the language levels you need to work on. That is why I made my own! Look at the buyers’ feedback on the Social Inferences Bundle to see how engaged students are! Or check out Language Skills for Conflict Resolution as pictured above.

I know that it can be confusing or scary to purchase materials on line. Always be sure to thoroughly read the description and look at the previews to help in the decision. And, to make it even easier, try out the related freebies:

Teen Problem Solving FREEBIE

Language for Conflict Resolution | Peer Interactions Assessment

Then be sure to leave kind feedback as a thank you!


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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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